Steve Baur
Former Editor, Modified Mustangs & Fords
April 1, 2007
Photos By: The NMCA Staff
In 1998 the LX Fox-body received a Cobra makeover while running in Stock Eliminator trim. Performance Autobody in Henderson, Tennessee, installed the new body components and resprayed the car in its factory black hue. More important than looks, though, the Cobra conversion allowed Jeff to run the Cobra intake, mass air meter, and GT-40 cylinder heads.

Once upon a time, Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords magazine was at ground zero of the 5-liter Mustang movement. MM&FF headquarters was located minutes away from the Mustang mayhem that was happening at nearby Raceway Park in Englishtown, New Jersey, and its former editor, the now deceased Steve Collison, led the way by bringing his Mean Mr. Mustang project car to print for the world to see. The short-lived project showed what a few bolt-ons and some superior driving could do with the then-new 5.0 Fox Mustang, and it wasn't long before others followed suit.

"I was a Chevy guy before I read the articles on Mean Mr. Mustang," says Arlington, Tennessee's Jeff Swanson. "I was building a '67 Nova to compete in NHRA Stock Eliminator before my wife and I decided to sell it and order a new Mustang." But he wasn't alone.

The quick and agile ponycar had many GM loyalists jumping ship. Swanson ordered his as a no-option, black '88 Mustang LX. "I drove it daily for about a year and realized I was putting too much mileage on it, so my wife, Laura, drove it to keep the miles down," Jeff says.

Back in the day, aftermarket support for the Mustang was in its infancy, so mods were few and far between. "The M&H Racemasters were the popular thing at the time," Jeff says. "We'd go to the track, swap tires, race, and then go home." Utilizing the soon-to-be-legendary 10-minute tune-up procedure of advancing the timing, adding a K&N, removing the intake air silencer, icing the intake, and throwing on a short-belt (though Jeff didn't use the short-belt because you couldn't use one without air conditioning), his best elapsed time was a speedy 13.50.

Around 1993, the little LX was taken off the road permanently, and Jeff raced it at local bracket races, mastering the powershift and learning how to extract the most from his 302-powered Pony. In 1996, he entered the NHRA Stock Eliminator ranks, a category that rewards drivers for consistency and performance. Jeff faired well against the slew of carbureted musclecars, even in the heads-up "Class Eliminations" portion of the events.

The only power option is under the hood. Manual locks and windows save weight, and despite the 80,000 miles on the odometer, the interior has been well kept, and the factory tan interior contrasts nicely with the black Kirkey seats.

"We ran a 28x9-inch slick tire and used a set of MAC headers that we ran open," Jeff says. Other than that, the valve covers had never been off and entering the NHRA was a big step for the Volunteer-State resident. "We ran right at the index, which at the time was around 12.85," he says.

One day, while at an NHRA points meet, Jeff struck up a conversation with engine builder Jim Kuntz of Kuntz and Company Performance in Arkadelphia, Arkansas. "Jim expressed an interest in the fuel-injected cars, so I had him blueprint a set of E7TE cylinder heads," Jeff says. For the next 10 years, Kuntz would supply his Stock Eliminator powerplants, with which Jeff claimed eight national records for both speed and elapsed time and over a dozen NHRA Wally trophies.

Editor Evan Smith, who also competes with Project Stocker in the same class met up with Jeff at an MM&FF event in Memphis years ago, and since there weren't a lot of EFI Mustangs in Stock, the two developed a friendly rivalry that spanned phone lines as each would call the other to let them know they just went faster.

At certain national events, the cars in each class would run heads-up for a class win, in addition to running against other cars in various Stock designations. At the U.S. Nationals one year, the pair met up as two of the four com-petitors in the E/FI class. Jeff took the win and defeated Evan in the final round to take the class championship. "We met up in 2003 running in the same class," Jeff says. "I beat Evan, but it was bittersweet because he was faster than I was. I beat him on a holeshot. He probably won't let you print that, though."

The Mean Street motor looks like your typical hot-rodded small-block Ford, and that's what the NMCA is shooting for with the Mean Street class. It's a mean beast, though, that has propelled the black hatch to a best elapsed time of 10.15 at 131.20 mph, an NMCA national record.

During Jeff's Stock Eliminator tenure, the heads-up Mustang scene picked up considerably, with Fun Ford Weekend, NMRA, and NMCA sanctions offering a wide variety of classes to run. "Jim Kuntz beat me up the whole time to get away from the NHRA, and I was getting fed up with Stock," Jeff says. "They had split the EFI cars from the carbureted ones, and having a stick shift meant very, very few heads-up races."

It was time for a change, and Jeff chose the National Muscle Car Association's Mean Street class as his new destination. BFGoodrich Mean Street is an entry-level, heads-up class in the NMCA that is designed for naturally aspirated, street-appearing cars. There's a maximum engine displacement of 385 ci, and the vehicles must run carburetors and are limited to certain D.O.T.-approved, radial tires.

For the most part, the changes Jeff needed to make didn't require a monumental effort on his part, and he estimated the financial gap from Stock to Mean Street to be around 10 grand. Mean Street allows for more liberal front-end chassis modifications, such as RaceCraft tubular control arms and K-member. Jeff also uses AVO adjustable shocks and Moroso springs up front. Steve Gurley of Racefab Performance in Memphis, Tennessee, upgraded the eight-point rollbar to the current 12-point cage, which stiffens up the chassis, thus allow-ing the Team Z upper and lower rear control arms to control the '86 Mercury Capri rear springs. A Mid South Race Cars antiroll bar is also used.

Jeff is one of a growing number of racers using this trick water recirculation setup between rounds. Icing the intake only does so much, and this setup will help cool the cylinder heads.

One of the biggest changes from Stock to Mean Street was under the VFN 5-inch cowl induction hood. Jim Kuntz assembled a 360ci powerplant using an Eagle crankshaft and connecting rods, along with Ross pistons. The 8.2-inch deck height block uses a 4.060-inch bore combined with a 3.465-ish stroke, as Jeff puts it, and compression is sealed by a set of Kuntz-built, Trick Flow Twisted Wedge cylinder heads that have received a three-angle valve job and not much else per Mean Street rules. The 2.02/1.60-valved heads support Harland Sharp aluminum roller rocker arms as well as an Edelbrock Victor Jr. intake manifold and Pro Systems 4150 four-barrel carburetor.

The camshaft is a flat-tappet stick that sports 0.550 inch of valve lift. Beyond that, the rules are open-but the mouths are shut with regard to duration and centerline. Jeff relies on an Aeromotive A1000 pump to supply the gasoline to the carb and an MSD distributor, 7530T ignition box, and coil light the air/fuel mixture in the combustion chambers. Once the motor's exhaust stroke is complete, Hooker full-length headers with 3-inch collectors empty into a Hedman x-style mid pipe, where a short distance away the Flowmaster 3-inch Outlaw mufflers keep the small-block Ford audibly acceptable.

While some may think carburetors are old school and out of date, this Pro Systems 4150 is a state-of-the-art air and fuel mixing device.

Having run electronic fuel injection in Stock Eliminator, Jeff switched to tuning via a screw-driver. "I thought I had a good handle on the EFI tuning," he says. "Two years later and I still don't know that much about carburetors, but I can jet it and get it to run good."

As big as losing EFI was, going to an automatic was one of Jeff's biggest hang-ups when contemplating the switch to Mean Street. "For a stick guy, the thought of using an automatic turns your stomach," he says. "I didn't care for using an automatic, but I wasn't interested in carrying numerous replacement manual transmissions." Mean Street allows for H-pattern-style manual gearboxes only, and Jeff says that with those choices, he would be going through a trans every 15 or so runs.

That being said, the '88 hatchback puts power back to the Moser-equipped 8.8 axle using a Performance Automatic C4, a B&M shifter, and a top-secret TCI stall converter. "The trans-brake makes it fun," Jeff says. So how fast is this Mean Street ride? Its best elapsed time is 10.15 at 131 mph.

An old-school 5-liter enthusiast at heart, Jeff still ices down his intake manifold to get a cooler charge. While the Mustang's normal ice requirement is about 100 pounds over the course of the weekend, Jeff tells us he went through 200 pounds during the NMCA Superbowl of Street Legal Drag racing in Joliet, Illinois, in 2006. "We had the car set on kill that weekend and were icing the intake between every round," he says.

Another integral part of Jeff's racing program is his pit crew, which consists of his wife, Laura, his son, Justin, and his daughter, Danielle. "Laura does 90 percent of the between-round maintenance," Jeff says. "Justin and Danielle log every run of every car in Mean Street so we can keep track of what the others are doing. I have to mention Andy Star; he really helps me out a lot with the tuning."

In Jeff's first year among the Mean Street bullies, he took two wins and two runners-up in the four races he attended. At the end of the seven-round season, Swanson Family Racing had finished Third. That all changed in 2006 when the team of Tennesseans hit all seven races, set the national record at Bowling Green, Kentucky, and logged four wins and two runners-up to clinch the NMCA Mean Street championship.

With his hard work culminating in a championship season, what's next for Jeff? "I'm having too much fun right now," he says. "We'll definitely be back next year-after that I don't know. I might build another Stock Eliminator car to run in addition to the Mean Street car.

In talking with Jeff about his racing program, we discovered there are quite a few secrets and guises that Jeff keeps to himself, so if you're wondering about something that wasn't mentioned, know that he has found the correct size, shape, weight, or other measurement to provide championship-winning performances. With his supportive team in Laura, Justin, Danielle, and Andy, and a winning engine supplier in Kuntz and Co., there's no doubt there will be another melee on Mean Street in 2007. So if you're looking to check out some mean, heads-up racing, check out Jeff and his ride at one of the NMCA events this year.